Ukraine Navy remainder drills with US Navy

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

“US trains in Black Sea with Ukraine’s depleted navy” –

The United States is co-hosting drills in the Black Sea with what is left of Ukraine’s devastated navy, which lost about two thirds of its sailors and ships after Russia seized Crimea last year.
Ukraine’s naval force was eviscerated when Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March 2014. Moscow snatched much of the fleet moored in strategic ports, and convinced thousands of sailors to jump ship.


Is Crimea Russia’s albatross? Or vice versa?

Things in Russian-occupied Crimea are (still) more than a year later going super poorly.

Maybe not as poorly as things in rebel-occupied Donbass war zones, but about as bad as peacetime can get. They very badly underestimated the level of economic integration between Crimea and Ukraine / the rest of Europe (and by extension the economic and fiscal catastrophe that awaited a walled-off version of the peninsula). Crimea is in a crunch with no end yet in sight, and Russia is stuck with a very expensive bill its population and budget officials have already begun indicating they’re ready to skip out on.

Whether or not an overwhelming majority actually favored Russian annexation at the time — we don’t know how far off the hasty / sketchy referendum was from the truth — it’s pretty clear now that many voters would have at least reconsidered their pro-Russian instincts had they had better access to a realistic assessment of their prospects … or, at the very least, the benefit of hindsight from today.

Nostalgic Soviet pensioners and Russian-friendly organized crime thugs were never really a good foundation for the future, it turns out.


US military begins basic training for Ukraine troops

The New York Times reports on the new U.S. military instruction happening in western Ukraine:

After months on the front lines, Ukrainian National Guard members are being trained in basic skills as part of a $19 million American military effort.

I think this is hugely important. A lot of these troops have already had to learn the hard way — in battle — but now the ones who’ve survived this long and stuck it out will get some quality late-stage basic training for the field. Now they’ll be motivated, committed, experienced, and trained. Not just a couple of those things. This will help Ukraine’s continued resistance to foreign invasion and defense of their revolution.

Meanwhile, there’s advanced training happening for the people who do things like call in rocket and artillery strikes, which should help reduce some of the high civilian casualties caused by Ukraine’s military (both sides have been at fault). 

A separation of one’s own creation

Estonia has — quite vindictively — done an extremely poor job integrating the older generations of its large Russian-speaking population, which has unfortunately left them closely oriented toward Russia.

For example, Estonia could have provided extensive homegrown Russian-language television programming and instead limited it to 15 minutes per day, which left Russian state television across the border to fill the void, enthusiastically, with anti-Estonian propaganda. Younger Russian Estonians, born shortly before or some time after the Soviet breakup, are somewhat better integrated but only by virtue of cultural assimilation out of necessity, which fosters its own kind of resentments.

These failures, not small military strengths, is what has left the Baltic States vulnerable to Russian intimidation and threats.

In related news (pictured above and below), about two weeks ago, the United States rolled a large military convoy with great deliberation 1,100 miles across Poland and 5 other countries, in a show of support to NATO members or a show of force against Russia. NYT:

By the time it is finished, Operation Dragoon Ride, which began a week ago in the Baltics and is due to conclude later this week, will be the longest such movement the United States Army has made across Europe since Gen. George S. Patton diverted his Third Army to relieve Bastogne, Belgium, in 1944.


Operation Dragoon Ride, Eastern/Central Europe, Day 4. (Credit: US Army)

Operation Dragoon Ride, Eastern/Central Europe, Day 4. (Credit: US Army)

Also from Arsenal For Democracy on this topic

“Lithuania reactivates interwar paramilitary”
“Poland readies itself to go deep, if necessary”

Fears of an oligarchs war creep into Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has fired the billionaire Governor of Dnipropetrovsk, a southeastern oblast next to war-torn Donetsk, after the latter allegedly sent armed gunmen to the capital on Sunday to enter the offices of a state oil firm when his friend was fired as director.


Gov. Kolomoisky, appointed after the fall of the Yanukovich government, had been a vital ally in the war with Russia by financing a private army to support the central government. He publicly contends that the gunmen were not part of his units and had not been sent there on his orders. His allies also claimed a political hatchet job was being enacted against him.

According to the Financial Times, fellow oligarch President Poroshenko took a very dim view of this explanation:

Addressing Ukrainian soldiers in Kiev, Mr Poroshenko said: “We will not have any governor with their own pocket army”.

Other allegations assert that Kolomoisky has used his private army not just to fend off rebel advances but also to protect his business interests. The fact that he used to manage the oil company directly until recent reforms essentially spun its management back over to the state in a move he has fought probably strengthens the assumption that he was behind the mini-siege at the offices in Kiev beginning this past weekend. Plus, he showed up in person later in the day to defend the need for “private security,” even if he denied responsibility for the arrival of the gunmen.

Ironically (or perhaps cynically), Gov. Kolomoisky has actually previously accused other oligarchs of ill-gotten gains in the largely corrupt, post-Soviet privatizations that made most of them very wealthy.

Nevertheless, this latest fracas raises the specter of the militarily vital private armies being turned against the revolution and the elected government.
Read more

Despite the war, Ukraine is digging itself out

Alexei Bayer for The Globalist (and the Kyiv Post) on the state of Putin’s war in Ukraine:

After [the capture of Crimea], the war has not been going especially well. On the contrary, all of Putin’s plans have failed. After the flight of buffoonish Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainians have been able to elect a legitimate government and to build a stronger, battle-hardened military.

Ukraine’s economy is struggling, but it has not collapsed and bankruptcy is now unlikely, given the $17.5 billion aid package approved by the International Monetary Fund earlier this month. Slowly but surely, the Ukrainian economic system is undergoing the necessary reforms that have been delayed by a quarter of a century.

Meanwhile, Putin’s Novorossiya project, had envisioned annexing eastern and southern portions of Ukraine to connect by land to Crimea and to link with the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova. The project has failed miserably, shrinking to the size of two small, lawless and starving “People’s Republics.”

Russia might win individual battles, but the goals of seizing territory permanently and fundamentally destabilizing the Ukrainian governmental system for years to come are not coming easily or quickly…and might not come at all.

Arsenal For Democracy Background Reports on This Topic:

Putin’s Novorossiya Project
Get to Know a Geopolitical Flashpoint: Transdniestria
Ukraine: In defense of a “total war” in the east
Rebel offensive targets corridor to Crimea

Novorossiya/New Russia in the Russian Empire in 1897. (Credit: Dim Grits - Wikimedia)

Novorossiya/New Russia in the Russian Empire in 1897. (Credit: Dim Grits – Wikimedia)

Lithuania reactivates interwar paramilitary

Following Poland’s recent lead with re-mobilizing the Home Army, Lithuania has reinvigorated its interwar paramilitary from club status to a more quasi-official force, in a bid to be prepared if Russia begins a stealth invasion to “protect” ethnically Russian residents as it did in Ukraine:

Lithuania revived its pre-WWII Riflemen’s Union to help deter the threat of both conventional and hybrid warfare. The citizens’ militia boasts over 8,000 members in the nation of three million people, a number almost on par with its 8,000 military personnel and 4,500 reservists.

Technically, at least according to Wikipedia, the latter-day Riflemen’s Union has been around since Lithuania’s departure from Soviet control, but — as with similar forces in Poland — it had been a small, informal organization until its recent elevation.

Not mentioned in the article quoted above, however, is the note from the Wikipedia page that most of the members under the club version were teenagers or “youth” members. That means they would essentially be child soldiers if actually deployed to resist a Russian intervention.

The group has been hoping to recruit more (adult) members since last summer, in light of recent events. Estonia’s paramilitary recruitment reportedly swelled significantly in the aftermath of the Crimea annexation.

The Baltic states, now part of the European Union and NATO, are particularly worried about the prospects of a secret Russian invasion. They were the last to be annexed to the Soviet Union and the first to try to leave it after the Berlin Wall fell, and (like Ukraine) they still retain large Russian minorities. Plus, they have already faced electronic attacks from Russia in the past.

While a full-scale invasion is improbable now, hybrid meddling and destabilisation tactics designed to test NATO’s commitment to collective defence are not.

Putin’s brand of hybrid warfare also relies on “misinformation, bribery, economic pressure”, which are designed to “undermine the nation”, according to Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis.

One has to wonder, though, whether the climate of fear being created — even the semi-regularization of somewhat questionable paramilitary forces — is already undermining these nations without a single shot being fired or paratrooper being landed.

Flag of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union (via Wikipedia)

Flag of the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union (via Wikipedia)